Fairly often, I get asked how I START a big project. Like, if I know I want a chapter of magic items for the Really Wild West, where would I begin organizing my thoughts and planning that out?
Assuming the pagination and wordcounts was already done by someone else, I’d start with ideas.
Especially for a series of elements using the same basic rules subsystem (such as the features of one character class, a series of magic items for one campaign, feats, spells, new superpowers, whatever), I like to start the conceptual work by spitballing ideas to myself. This isn’t an effort to create completed rules elements yet, just to begin filling out what kinds of ideas I want those rules elements to cover.
There are numerous advantages to this for me. First, I can begin to hash out a tone and flavor for the section. Second, I find it easier to figure out how to use rules to model concepts if I have several of those concepts already in a hopper. Third, often coming up with interesting ideas is the important part of a project for me. I can’t do it all in one sitting. By making a list early on, I give myself time to iterate, modify, and even reconsider if I need to.
After I have a fair percentage of the ideas I think I need, I’ll go back and begin turning the ones I like best into full rules elements. this lets me see how much wordcount those take up, which lets me know how many ideas I’ll need to fit the space.*
*(Unless the project is based on a specific number of items– like a list of 100 NPC catchphrases or 2 things to do in a dungeon when you’re dead, in which case I still like this process but the thing I learn at this stage is if I need to modify how much info I am putting in each entry to the pre-determined number of items will fill up the pre-determined wordcount. IN this case the feedback loop may be more likely to tell me if my concepts need to change to be more of less detailed.)
I often do ideas in three big waves–when I first start a project, when I run out of those ideas I started with, and when I have a good idea how many ideas I’ll need to finish it. Sometimes one or more of those waves isn’t needed–occasionally I find my first brainstorm gave me everything that will fit, for example. I also jot down ideas as they come to me when I am working on other parts of the work, or even other projects.
So, what do I mean by spitballing ideas?
I just want some sense of what the item is going to be. Maybe a name, maybe a description. If I have some idea of how the rules for the idea should work, I jot that down.
Here’s an example of those spitball ideas (cleaned up to a standard format for presentation on its own, rather than as notes only I will see). These are concepts for “Oddities,” magic items that occur as a result of weird events and energies, rather than being created intentionally, for my Really Wild West setting. Each of these gives enough info to see how it might work in game, but doesn’t yet worry about things like item level, cost, and any special rules Oddities may have as opposed to typical magic items.
(Art by i-pciture. Of the Eye by the Witch Hazel Pentafaust)
01. Weathered copy of a leather-bound book titled “Diplomacy Through Other Means.” It has hardness 20, 20 hp, and can be used as a light simple melee weapon dealing 1d4 damage (+1d4 per 4 ranks of Culture you have). You can’t add Strength (or any other any ability score modifiers) to damage dealt, but do add you ranks in Culture.
02. Pearl-Handled corkscrew. When screwed into people (normally a full round action that requires they be restrained and which deals 1-2 hp) it forces them to reveal their name, even if they don’t know it themselves.
03. Small hourglass filled with dark blue sand. If flipped and allowed to run normally without being moved, when it goes off it casts a random summon creature (or a random spell level) which no one has any control over. It lasts 1 hour if not otherwise damaged or dispelled.
04. Single old scarf about a yard long, with a smoke stain near top. Does not conduct heat (but can burn), thus can be used as perfect oven mitt or grant fire resist 20 for a thing you touch with it.
05. Zippo lighter with the kanji for “stork” on the side. If used to illuminate a written word medium (scroll, book, so on), the text within it slowly scrolls by in the shadow created by the flame.
06. Wire-frame glasses. If kept tucked in a pocket, halves falling damage for possessor.
07. Stained paper map of Fort Harrison, Indiana, from 1823. If mis-folded and then opened, it creates a fog cloud (as the spell). The map itself is always torn free by a gust of wind that brings in the fog, and normally takes (4d4 – 1d4) x 10 minutes to find.
08. An 1888 John J. Loud ball point pen with green ink. Rapidly (and loudly) clicking the pen gives a +5 bonus to Perception checks, but only against people using Stealth.
09. Small box of “Court Orlock” brand safety matches. If thrown at someone within 15 feet they must make a Will save (DC equal to the touch attack roll to hit them) or spend 1 round picking up the matches. Has 1d4 uses per day.
10. Wicker Picnic Basket, with its own plates, cutlery, and stacking cups as service for 6. If loaded with food and taken out of any settlement and then used for an hourlong or longer picnic, the ort remaining can be interpreted as a diving device. It may act as augury, divination, or commune, as randomly determined by the GM. One of the picnic participants will then have an encounter within 1 week of a high enough CR that average treasure for that encounter would pay for a spell gem of the divination spell gained. The basket don’t work again until the creature using them has had this encounter, which doesn’t have any actual treasure associated with it.
11. Tortoiseshell make-up compact. Anyone who has the powder from the compact (requiring an successful EAC attack against an adjacent creature) blown on them is slowed (as the spell) for 1 minute, and the person who used it is slowed for 10 minutes. Only a creature not slowed can use it.
12. Dried pea. If placed up your nose, it grants a +4 bonus to saving throws against poison, and a successful save always ends the poison. Someone who knows you have it up there can get you to shoot it out with a successful dirty trick maneuver (replacing the normal options for dirty trick).
13. Cork table coaster. Anything placed on it doesn’t experience any passage of time as long nothing else is touching it but air. This DOES keep drinks cold (or hot) much longer, but it also prevents fruit from spoiling, dynamite from exploding, radioactive isotopes from decaying, and so on.
14. Wooden, obviously-toy pistol. When pointed at an animal and the trigger pulled, causes the animal to talk randomly in French for 1 round. There is a 10% chance the first time it is used each day the animal says something useful and relevant to the user holder.
15. Worn leather coin purse. As long as nothing but coins are stuffed into it there does not seem to be a limit how many fit in, but they can only be added or removed at a rate of 4 credits per round.
16. Tablecloth-sized parchment with complex diagram for an unidentified steam engine. If placed on a stationary, prone creature the piping diagram changes to represent the organs (and injuries) or that creature, granting a +5 bonus to Medicine checks with that creature.
17. Old-style iron key. Fits in any lock. Can’t unlock a lock, but can lock it. If it was already locked, the next person to touch it takes 1 point of electricity damage.
18. Small pot of glossy black lipstick. Never runs out. The first time each day someone wearing the lipstick is damaged by an attacker the wearer has not ever damaged, the wearer may kiss a weapon. That weapon delivers critical hit effects (but not critical hit damage) against that attacker the first time it successfully hits and damages the attacker.
19. A granite die with 20 sides, numbered 7-26. Anyone with this on their person is lucky (gain one reroll each day, rerolling after you see the result of a roll and taking the better of the two results) except in games of chance (always roll twice and take the worst result for all games of chance).
20. Carved whalebone whistle. If blown directly in someone’s ear is heals them for 1d8+1 damage, and they are deafened for 1 hour per hp healed. If the deafness is removed early, the healing is also removed. It cannot heal someone temporarily deaf from this effect. The healing appears to be the revelation the wound wasn’t that bad to begin with — there’s never any actual sign of improved health. A person cannot benefit from this again until after they next expend 1 RP to regain SP after a 10-minute rest.
21. The Sinister Glass Eye of the Witch Hazel Pentafaust. This cracked, yellow glass eye spins and looks about of its own accord. When held in a closed fist, it causes you to be shaken (despite any immunities you might have) and automatically be able to identify any spell you see being cast.
If you found this helpful or informative, and you’d like to support the creation of more such content, check out my Patreon!
So, we’ve increased access to spells withspell guns and runethrowers, and then hex rounds and wandshells. Which might leave spellcasting classes saying :”Hey, those are our class features! It’s not like we can buy a potion of operative exploits!”
But in a galaxy with mnemonic enhancers, why CAN’T get you other some class features as 1-shot consumable items?
(art by meenkulathiamma)
Knackhacks Item Credit
Item Level Cost Bulk
Knackhack, 2nd-level knack 3 325 L
Knackhack, 6th-level knack 7 750 L
Knackhack, 10th-level knack 11 3,250 L
Knackhack, 14th-level knack 15 17,500 L
Knackhacks are 1-shot, consumable hybrid cyberdivinations that interface with armor to grant temporary access to techniques and abilities referred to as “prowesses.” A prowess may be a biohacker theorem, envoy improvisation, mechanic trick, operative exploit, or soldier gear boost. There are limitations to which of these prowesses you can use.
A knackhack slots into an otherwise-empty armor upgrade slot. It takes a full round to insert or remove a knackhack, but there’s no skill check or equipment required. A knackhack can only contain a prowess available to a character with a class level lower than the knackhack‘s item level. The prowess operates with a character level equal to the knackhack‘s item level. You can only benefit from one knackhack at a time.
The prowess granted by a knackhack cannot have a Resolve Point cost. It also cannot be on that requires or modifies a class feature or piece of equipment you do not have. For example, a character with no levels in biohacker could not use a knackhack to gain prowess with the theorems of field dressing (which requires a custom microlab) or hampering inhibitor (which requires the ability to use basic inhibitors). However, a non-biohacker character could gain prowess with painful injection, strange anatomy, toxic skin, treat condition, or treatment mastery. (By the same token a biohacker could use a knackhack to gain access to field dressing as a prowess.)
If the prowess has a limited number of uses (per day or other time period), or a limited number of uses that reset when you expend a Resolve Point to regain Stamina Points following a 10-minute rest, then you gain a single use of it with the knackhack (taking whatever action the prowess normally takes), and it is then expended. If it is an ability that grants passive bonuses or van be used at will, it takes a standard action to activate the knackhack, and then the prowess is available for 1 minute.
You cannot create a knackhack unless you have the prowess it grants.
Want more Starfinder articles like this? Pathfinder 1st-edition content? Would you rather see more material for 5e, or industry insider articles? Join my Patreon for a few bucks a month, and let me know!
Here’s the final post for the week, playing with fun options for the weapon damage benchmarks per level for Starfinder I posted on Monday.
Since those benchmarks allow you to determine the damage of nearly any weapon at any item level (grenades and special weapons are special cases), they are half of what we need to allow you to upgrade Starfinder weapons. If you want to have your laser pistol be improved so it does more damage, just select an item level on the EAC small arms table with a benchmark that’s better than your current damage, and increase the pistol’s item level to match.
The big question left, of course, is “how much does that cost?”
Enter the Weapon Upgrade Pricing chart.
To determine the cost of such an upgraded weapon, find the first value on the chart that is more than it’s current cost. Then go three steps down the chart from there for each increase in item level. That entry is the new value of the weapon. Pay the difference between that new value and your original value, and your weapon is upgraded. (Upgrading a weapon requires the same time, resources, and skill at building a weapon of the new item level from scratch).
(art by 3droman)
For example: Carl has a 5th level wyrmling dragon rifle, a longarm which does 1d8 fire damage and costs 3,020 credits. But his character is 7th level, has money to spare, and he wants to upgrade the weapon. Looking at the benchmark table, he sees that if he upgrades his longarm to 7th level, it’ll do 2d6 damage. Much better!
His friend Ali the mechanic has the ranks and tools to do the upgrade. All Carl needs to know is the price.
Looking at the Upgrade Pricing Chart, he sees the first value higher than 3,020 is 3,250. Since he increased two item levels he needs to go six steps down the chart, which is 7,000 credits. Since his weapon currently has a value of 3,020, he needs to pay the difference — 3,980 credit (likely in UPBs) to get the weapon upgraded.
Weapon Upgrade Pricing Chart
You can also use the chart to estimate the cost of other kinds of equipment such as armor and even magic items… but that’s a different article!
Do you find these kind of analyses and design tools useful? Want to suggest a specific topic for an article? Support this blog by joining my Patreon!
So, Monday I posted a big entry with long lists of tables that gave benchmark damage values for weapons of all types at all item levels in Starfinder, and mentioned there were lots of fun things we could do with a list like that. Here’s another one.
We can eliminate weapon damage being primarily determined by item level.
There are lots of good and well-thought out reasons why damage is tied to item levels in Starfinder, and it works great for the core game, but it makes some setting hacks harder to pull off. In particular, it doesn’t work well for genres that encourage players to get attacked to specific weapons (the Colt revolver Shanna the Gunslinger left you when she rode back into the Outlands, or the longsword your Grandfather carried in the aberration wars two generations ago, and so on).
So, let’s say we wanted to use Starfinder for a pure fantasy campaign, rather than science-fantasy. Perhaps a game set in Solstice, with charters constantly looking for new dungeons to explore.
We’ll call is DungeonFinder… for now.
And we want people to fight with swords and axes and bows in DungeonFinder, rather than plasma sabers and laser pistols. So, first, we make a few fantasy weapons. (This isn’t an exhaustive list, just a short set of examples).
For now we’ll list the prices in “cr,” which could stand for credits, crown coins, copper reals, or whatever. For this example we can treat 1-handed and 2-handed as properties for now (to keep these on fewer charts), allow boost on things without charges, and list the range increment of thrown weapons after the thrown property.
Basic Melee Weapons
Weapon Item Level Cost Damage Critical Bulk Properties
Club 0 0 cr 1d2 B Knockdown 1 1H, Thrown (10 ft.)
Dagger 1 10 cr 1d3 S L 1 H, Thrown (15 ft.)
Mace 1 25 cr 1d4 B Knockdown 1 1H, Boost (1d4)
Maul 1 10 cr 1d6 B Knockdown 2 2H, Boost (1d6), unwieldy
Spear, light 1 15 cr 1d4 P L 1 H, Reach
Spear, heavy 1 25 cr 1d6 P 1 2 H, Reach
Staff 1 5 cr 1d4 B Knockdown 1 2H, Block
Stiletto 1 50 cr 1d3 P Bleed (1d3) L 1H, Conceal, operative
Torch 1 1 cr 1d2 B & F Burn (1d3) L 1 H, One 1-hour charge
Advanced Melee Weapons
Weapon Item Level Cost Damage Critical Bulk Properties
Battle Axe 1 50 cr 1d6 S Wound 1 1 H, boost (1d6)
Great Axe 1 100 cr 1d10 S Wound 2 2 H, boost (1d6), unwieldy
Great Sword 1 110 cr 2d4 S Bleed (1d8) 2 2 H
Short Sword 1 30 cr 1d6 S Bleed (1d4) L 1 H
Longsword 1 50 cr 1d8 S Bleed (1d6) 1 1 H
Rapier 1 150 cr 1d6 P Demoralize L 1 H, Block, feint, operative
THEN, we say if you are proficient with a weapon, when using it you do either its listed damage, or damage from the appropriate benchmark table using your class level (or perhaps equal to your base attack bonus if we want to give soldiers more of an edge) as the item level.
Magic weapons can have fusions… or really powerful ones could actually do damage at +1 or +2 levels on the benchmark chart.
Slings and throw darts can be Small Arms. Crossbows and longbows Long Arms.
But MAGIC WANDS can be small arms too! Your cogamancer might have a wand of lighting that’s just a 1d6 ranged electricity attack with arc on it…
This allows for a HUGE range of weapons, all of which need only be designed as a single item level, since damage will scale automatically.
Want More DungeonFinder?!
The best way to get more of this content, and to suggest other kinds of content you;d like to see, it by joining my Patreon for just a few dollars a month!
So, yesterday I posted a big entry with long lists of tables that gave benchmark damage values for weapons of all types at all item levels in Starfinder, and mentioned there were lots of fun things we could do with a list like that. Here’s one of them.
We can scale weapon damage without having pre-written weapons.
For example, here’s a new version of the hammer fist ability from the soldier’s armor storm fighting style.
Hammer Fist (Ex) – 1st Level
You treat any unarmed attack you make while wearing heavy or powered armor as being made with a battleglove with an item level equal to or lower than your soldier level. Calculate damage for these attacks using the 1-handed basic melee benchmark damage, and adding bonuses as if you had the melee striker gear boost. If you have the melee striker gear boost, you gain a +2 bonus to damage rolls with your unarmed attacks when using this ability. These unarmed attacks don’t benefit from other abilities that apply specifically to unarmed attacks (such as the Improved Unarmed Strike feat).
(art by photoslaz)
With the core rulebook version of hammer fist, you have long dead levels where your damage with this ability doesn’t keep up. Now it goes to 1d6 at 2nd level and so on, keeping up with relevant weapons you could gain at those levels.
We can now also create class features that allow you to exceed the limits of your weapon’s damage, built on the idea a character *can* get access to an item up to their level +2, without creating some stacking nightmare that could be combined with higher-level gear to break the game.
Let’s say we wanted a Melee Weapon Master archetype, and we wanted them to do more damage with their melee weapon than other folks. The archetype can require to you to focus on an advanced melee weapon type, and then give you advantages with it.
Masterwork Damage (Ex): When using a weapon of your focused type that has an item level no greater than your character level, you may do more damage with it. Find the benchmark damage* matching your advanced melee weapon (KAC or EAC, 1-handed or 2-handed). You deal damage one level above your weapon’s benchmark.
*If your weapon damage dice do not exactly match a listed benchmark, your benchmark damage is considered to be the highest damage dice that have an average result that does not exceed your weapon’s damage dice’s average result. For example, if using a 1-handed EAC advanced melee weapon that does 1d20 damage, your benchmark damage is considered to be 3d6 (average of 10.5), as that is the highest total that does not exceed your weapon’s average (also 10.5). You would thus do 3d8, one benchmark level higher, when using this ability.
My patrons make these posts possible. Please consider joining them in funding my Patreon!
The following tables are benchmarks for how much damage a typical weapons of a specific type should do at each item level. This is the result of a LOT of work, which I have been doing literally for a couple of years. These numbers are based on creating weapons that match the mathematical assumptions behind combat in Starfinder, so if you have a weapon within a few item levels of your character level, you are within the range of combat effectiveness the game assumes when determining enemy AC and HP.
Of course such a system is not perfect. You can tell just by looking at it that it doesn’t perfectly recreate weapons in Starfinder, especially weapons of item level 5 or less. This is because lower-level weapons are, in fact, too good for the “assumed math” of Starfinder. An optimized 1st-level character can often kill a CR 1 or less foe in a single slightly-luckier-than-average shot. This is never the case at higher levels, and that’s intentional. Essentially when designing this system, low-level fights being easier for low-level characters than mid- and -high level fights are for mid- and high-level characters was considered an acceptable consequence of not wanting to say a 2-handed doshko does 1d6 to 1d8 damage.
Those issues even out at higher item levels, and even so these numbers provide weapons within the rough range of “useful.” That’s going to be important with some interesting things we’re going to do with these values as the week progresses.
*There are assumptions built into these numbers:
*These values assume typical range increment, usage, critical hit effect, and cost.
*A line does damage equal to a weapon three levels lower.
*A blast does damage equal to a weapon four levels lower.
*An unwieldy weapon does damage equal to a weapon two levels higher.
*A typical weapon has a single moderate critical hit and 1-2 positive special qualities. A weapon with none of these can do increased damage, but not as much as a 1-level shift. A weapon with wound, severe wound, or stunned and 1-2 positive special qualities, or with 3 or more special qualities, does damage equal to a weapon one level lower. Being unusually cheap, having a better-than-average range, or having unusually low usage count as a special quality, while the inverse can negate the impact of a special quality.
Weapons of level 9 or less should not have wound, severe wound, or stunned. No weapon should have more than one critical hit effect.
Single Target, Ranged KAC Weapons
Level Heavy Longarm Small Arm
-3 1d2 1 pt. 1 pt.
-2 1d3 1d2 1 pt.
-1 1d4 1d3 1 pt.
0 1d6 1d4 1d2
1 1d8 1d6 1d3
2 2d4 1d8 1d4
3 1d10 2d4 1d4
4 1d12 1d10 1d6
5 2d6 1d12 1d8
6 2d8 2d6 1d8
7 3d6 2d8 1d12
8 3d8 3d6 2d6
9 3d10 2d12 2d8
10 5d6 3d8 2d10
11 5d8 4d6 3d6
12 7d6 4d8 3d8
13 7d8 4d10 4d6
14 8d8 5d10 4d8
15 9d8 6d10 6d6
16 10d8 7d10 5d8
17 10d10 8d10 6d8
18 11d10 9d10 7d8
19 12d10 10d10 8d8
20 13d10 11d10 9d8
21 14d10 12d10 10d8
22 15d10 13d10 11d8
Single Target, Ranged EAC Weapons
Level Heavy Longarm Small Arm
-3 1 pt. 1 pt 1 pt.
-2 1d2 1 pt. 1 pt.
-1 1d3 1d2 1 pt.
0 1d4 1d3 1d2
1 1d6 1d4 1d3
2 1d8 1d6 1d3
3 2d4 1d6 1d4
4 1d10 1d8 1d4
5 1d12 1d8 1d6
6 2d6 1d10 1d8
7 2d8 2d6 2d4
8 3d6 2d8 1d10
9 4d6 4d4 2d6
10 5d6 3d6 3d4
11 4d8 3d8 2d8
12 6d6 3d10 3d6
13 5d8 5d6 2d10
14 6d8 4d10 2d12
15 7d8 5d8 3d8
16 6d10 7d6 3d10
17 7d10 8d6 4d8
18 8d10 6d10 4d10
19 9d10 7d10 5d8
20 10d10 8d10 5d10
21 11d10 9d10 6d10
22 12d10 10d10 7d10
Single Target Melee KAC Weapons
Item 1-handed 2-handed 1-handed 2-handed
Level Advanced Advanced Operative Basic Basic
-3 1d2 1d4 1 pt. 1 pt. 1d2
-2 1d3 1d4 1 pt. 1 pt. 1d3
-1 1d3 1d4 1 pt. 1d3 1d3
0 1d4 1d6 1d3 1d4 1d4
1 1d4 1d6 1d3 1d4 1d6
2 1d6 1d6 1d4 1d6 1d6
3 1d6 1d8 1d4 1d6 1d6
4 1d8 1d8 1d4 1d6 1d8
5 1d8 1d10 1d6 1d8 1d8
6 2d4 2d6 1d6 1d8 1d10
7 2d6 2d8 1d8 1d10 1d12
8 2d8 3d6 2d4 1d10 2d8
9 3d6 4d6 2d6 2d8 3d6
10 4d6 5d6 3d4 2d8 3d8
11 5d6 4d8 2d8 2d10 4d6
12 4d8 6d6 3d6 3d8 5d6
13 6d6 7d6 3d8 3d10 4d8
14 6d8 9d6 4d6 4d8 5d8
15 9d6 10d6 5d6 5d8 8d6
16 10d6 11d6 6d6 6d8 9d6
17 12d6 13d6 7d6 7d8 10d6
18 14d6 15d6 8d6 8d8 12d6
19 16d6 17d6 9d6 9d8 13d6
20 18d6 20d6 10d6 11d8 15d6
21 20d6 22d6 11d6 12d8 17d6
22 22d6 25d6 12d6 13d8 19d6
Single Target Melee EAC Weapons
Item 1-handed 2-handed 1-handed 2-handed
Level Advanced Advanced Operative Basic Basic
-3 1 pt. 1d2 1 pt. 1 pt. 1 pt.
-2 1d2 1d3 1 pt. 1 pt. 1 pt.
-1 1d2 1d3 1 pt. 1d2 1 pt.
0 1d3 1d4 1d3 1d3 1d3
1 1d3 1d4 1d3 1d3 1d3
2 1d4 1d4 1d3 1d3 1d4
3 1d4 1d6 1d3 1d3 1d4
4 1d4 1d6 1d3 1d3 1d4
5 1d6 1d8 1d4 1d4 1d6
6 1d8 1d10 1d4 1d6 1d8
7 1d10 2d6 1d6 1d8 1d10
8 1d12 2d8 1d8 2d4 1d12
9 2d8 3d6 2d4 1d10 2d6
10 3d6 3d8 1d10 1d12 2d8
11 3d8 4d6 1d12 2d6 3d6
12 4d6 4d8 2d6 2d8 2d10
13 5d6 6d6 2d8 3d6 3d8
14 5d8 7d6 3d6 3d8 4d6
15 6d6 6d8 3d8 4d6 5d6
16 6d8 7d8 4d6 4d8 5d8
17 7d8 8d8 5d6 6d6 6d8
18 8d8 9d8 4d8 7d6 7d8
19 9d8 10d8 6d6 9d6 8d8
20 10d8 15d6 7d6 10d6 9d8
21 11d8 17d6 8d6 12d6 10d8
22 12d8 19d6 9d6 13d6 11d8
Made Possible By Patreon
Projects this big (involving this much math and art) are impossible without the support of my Patrons! Of you find any of my content useful, from this to videos to the #RealGameIndustry hashtag on social media, please consider backing me on Patreon even just for a few dollars a month.